HP grooms iPaq for business

Slick, versatile smartphone builds on Windows Mobile 6.1's features to deliver Exchange e-mail support and more

There are enough smartphone choices to make you dizzy. Yet in the business world, it arguably comes down to RIM's BlackBerry and select Windows Mobile-based devices -- with the strong possibility of Apple's 3G iPhone stealing some of their thunder.

Not surprisingly, enterprises that have standardized on Windows Mobile also have an affinity for HP's iPaq line. While often late to the party, the iPaq portfolio offers solid hardware and, most important, the manageability large organizations need. In the case of the latest iPaq 910c Business Messenger, however, customers were ready to leave the party because the guest looked like it would never arrive. But it has -- and staying up late was worth the wait.

The iPaq 910c is only the second Windows Mobile 6.1 device to ship (HTC's Touch Dual was the first). I just finished testing one of the first preproduction units for two weeks and discovered several notable design changes from the blueprint announced last year. These improvements, HP utilities added on top of Windows Mobile, and top-end specifications should make this device very appealing to on-the-go professionals and the IT departments supporting them.

Unpacking the iPaq

First, the specs: Business Messenger now has a stylish piano-black design, and the prototype's larger navigation wheel is replaced by a smaller five-way navigation button with center select. Standard memory's been boosted to 128MB, and the removable battery now has the highest capacity I've seen so far in a smartphone: 1,940 mAh.

Unlike older models, including the iPaq 6920 and 6925 that were first locked to a particular wireless carrier, the 910c is only sold unlocked and works worldwide. Connectivity includes tri-band UMTS/HSDPA (up to 7.2Mbps) and quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE. Additionally, there's 802.11 b/g wireless networking and Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR.

At 5.4 ounces, the iPaq 910c is about one-half ounce heavier than the BlackBerry Curve 8310. HP's new offering is also slightly longer than its BlackBerry counterpart and slightly deeper. Still, the iPaq 910c is comfortable to hold and has a more solid feel compared to the Curve.

The controls on the iPaq are nicely arranged, and there's one-button access to all major functions. More importantly, this unit gives you multiple ways to work. I easily switched among the 2.46-inch (320-by-240 QVGA resolution) touchscreen, the QWERTY keyboard, and the side-mounted scroll wheel. If there's one wish, it would be a larger display. Still, the screen was very readable in daylight.

You'll find plenty of opinions on Windows Mobile 6.1, so I'll just say that I found this a good upgrade. The many smaller changes from 6.0, such as new browser display options, added up to a decent Web-viewing experience. Microsoft and third-party applications ran fast on the HP's Marvel PXA270 416MHz processor. I had no problem configuring and receiving push e-mail from an Exchange server as well as my personal POP3 e-mail accounts. Moreover, for working tethered, the iPaq 910c was automatically recognized by my Vista laptop and configured for Windows Mobile Device Center.

Similarly, I didn't encounter any problems using my AT&T 3G SIM card or connecting to various Wi-Fi wireless networks. The HP's battery, which is almost twice the capacity of the BlackBerry's, delivered an excellent performance: about 7.5 hours talk time and more than 10 days (250 hours) of standby juice.

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